Kedistan invites you to grab a stool, just at the bend of the bar and to order an espresso. Sip while quietly savoring these few pages, a bit wrinkled, while yearning for the taste of real Turkish coffee…

French Kurdistan, summer 2015

Thursday July 16 2015, in the Paris-Marseille TGV, 11h24


I was supposed to write you from Kurdistan in Turkey. Whatever happened?
Until Istanbul, nothing in particular.
The escalator rises on a diagonal through its tube.
In a moment, we won’t see one another anymore.

Around 12h18, St-Charles station in Marseille

I marked up my travel guide during the flight.
On arrival, travellers spread out between Istanbul and the rest of the world. The internal transfer doesn’t attract crowds at this late hour. I’m finding my way with the panels when two insignificant-looking guys adress me, each one showing me his badge.
The interrogation takes place in a small rectangular room. I’m sitting on a rather low couch. One of the guys has his ass on the desk, the other one on a bar stool.

14h01, in the TER heading for Embrun (Southern Alps)

– Why have you come to Turkey?
– I’m a tourist.
– Why are you going to Eastern Turkey
– There are lots of things to see…
– Is this the first time you’ve come to Turkey?
– Yes, this is the first time…
– So why don’t you stay in Istanbul, like everybody else does?
– I’d rather save Istanbul and the West for another time…
– You have cash?
– Uh… yes…
– How much to you have?
– 140 euros…
– Can you show us ?
– …
– What have you got in your bag? Let’s have a look…
– Is this a drawing by your daughter?
– No, by my niece…

After inspecting my travel guide carefully, they spread out my Turkish map across the couch and look at it for a good five minutes (you must never miss an opportunity to revise!)

What is your trade?
– French teacher.
– Can you show us your professional card?
– There are no such cards for teachers in France.
– Where will you stay in Diyarbakır? Do you have a voucher for a hotel reservation?
– No, I’ll be staying with an acquaintance…
– What is her name?
– I only know her first name: Esma.
– Do you have her phone number?
– Wait, let me see…Uh, no, it’s not in my notebook…In fact, it’s written down on that slip of paper…
– Who are these people on this list?
– They are my friends in France and my contacts in Turkey…
– Zehra Tuncer ? Who is Zehra Tuncer?
– She’s my friend…
– Kemal ? Elçin ? İnci ? Mehmet… ?… (while this goes on, the other one tries in vain to reach Elçin on my phone but there’s no network). What’s written in brackets after “Mehmet” ?
– “HDP official…”

At about this point, a bit before or a bit later, at least one other cop comes in to join us. He has a transgenic haircut. I’m finally invited to put away my belongings.
– “Quick” the worm says…

I am now in what I would call the airport police station. The staff work behind the counter under the fixed image of Kemal Atatürk, and the moving one of Erdoğan.
I’m sitting at a small table on the public’s side of the counter. Facing me, a man whose shoulders are snowy with dandruff glares at me though his glasse.

You’re not suitable for Turkey. It is the government’s right to refuse somebody’s presence if he thinks it’s not suitable. You take the first plane to France tomorrow morning. Everything is explained in this paper…

The “paper” explains nothing at all.

They take me beyond the door, at the back end of the office.
At last. Irakis and Syrians who fled from ISIS or, maybe who collaborated with it. It’s a joke between them, so one of them is jokingly introduced to me as a member of ISIS by a young bearded man . Des Irakiens et des Syriens qui ont fuit DAESH ou qui, peut-être, y ont participé. C’est un sujet de plaisanterie entre eux, apparemment, alors, quand l’un d’eux m’est présenté comme un membre de DAESH par un jeune barbu syrien goguenard,1I don’t know if this is fish or fowl.

Prior to that, I sympathize with a man from Cameroon. He’s one of two French speakers, the other is a Congolese from RDC. He’s been here for four months!

A slightly bearded Iraki has arrived at the same time as I. He was almost crying in the office, explaining he would be killed if they sent him back to Irak.
We exchange names, handshakes and smiles with a Gambian.
There are at least four Kurds among the Irakis. One of them wanted to pursue his studies in Russia. There is also a Syrian Kurd. The story the Congolese tells me is extremeley complicated.
If memory serves, there were four rows of beds with five beds in each. On the right, the door opens onto showers and toilets. In front of it is the living space: you eat there, youp ray ther, you phone, you chat… We hear voices on the other side of the wall: it’s the women’s dorm! The wall is so thin we can even communicate through it!
You need a card to use the phone cabin. The guy from Cameroon gyps me by selling me one for 5 euros when all it contains are 8TKL (about 2,50€).

Saturday July 18, 15h42,on a bench facing the cathedral in Embrun

It must be midnight in Turkey. In France, I don’t know. I try to call my comrade at the Association of Friends of Old Monchy. While I dial her number, the Muslims settle in for prayer, just behind me. Their droning chant invites itself along with my words on Noëlle’s voice mail.

By miracle, Jean Dubois, the président of the association, answers the phone. He happens to be with Barnabe who works at the Norman cultural centre in Monchy.
I must then stay by the phone so he can call me back. But every second time, the call isn’t for me, it’s for Badiou, the Congolese. (…) Finally, Jean recommends that I let myself be sent back to France, rather than mouldering here for an undetermined length of time.
Food time!
We are served a bit the same way as on the place with a plastic-covered dish but only a main course. Some get moussaka. I have beef with rice. Eating all together is congenial. In the end, since there are lots of left-overs, the others insist that I eat everything!

In the cathedral,

During ayran, teatime, before or after, I impress the Kurds by showing them I know how to say “rojbash”! In conversation with the Syrian Kurd, I slip in a “biji Kobanê”! Here’s very amused! However, I remain evasive on the hypothetical reasons for my detention because I suspect the presence of an informer among the guests. There are also cameras in every corner of the room and in the toilets. The man from Cameroon explains he wanted to reach Europe through Turkey. He tells me Boko Haram also commits exactions in his country. The Congolese weaves a dithyrambic portrait of Europe, land of Human Rights.
During the meal, one very thin man in a djellaba remains sad. I lent him my card afterwards, so he could call with the units remaining (approximately 2,5 TKL). Unfortunately, he didn’t manage to reach the person he wanted to talk to, or the person couldn’t call back, I don’t really know.
Detainess who have been there for a long time are allowed to walk around, at certain hours I guess, within the airport’s perimeter. This is how one of them brought back chocolates for everyone, a while ago. As the conversation dies down, everyone goes to his bed.
Four or five of us extras konk out on the chairs. Hard to find a good position. It must be three o’clock in the morning. The lights stay on all the time. I’m pulled from my drowsiness by something I don’t understand at first.
All the chairs are set aside and piled in one corner. The carpet gets laid out for prayer.
The master of ceremony’s chant is soft and soothing. I wonder to what extent it is composed or improvised.
I notice the bearded Syrian joker stays in bed during the prayer. Maybe he’s Christian, or something else. The Syrian Kurd participates though, as does the presumed ISIS member, the sad man in the djellaba, the Iraki with a necktie, the man from Cameroon…
Around six o’clock in the motning, I call the hotel reception desk to find out when they intend to pick me up. In about forty minutes, they tell me.

As I leave the place, everyone’s eyes are closed, except for the Congolese to whom I make a sign.
The TV is still on in the office. Alternately, it shows Erdoğan and Selahattin Demirtaş! I stifle my urge to laugh!
Judging by his expression and the tone of his voice as he comments what he sees and hears for the police woman behind the counter, my accompanist doesn’t find it funny at all.

The airport’s bay window greets the rising sun.
Sitting on the chair where my accompanist has left me, I see the Syrian Kurd in a distance, doing his early morning stroll.
I am left in the care of the ground hostesses who sit me right behind the counter of the boarding gate.
The boarding staff joke among themselves, paying me no attention. Their carefree attitude irritates me, so much so that I become disagreeable like a disgruntled customer.
In the end, I understand they were waiting to end the boarding procedure to take me to the plane and hand over my passport to the person who will hand it over to the French border police when I leave the plane, so that the border police can hand it back to me at last!

I sit at the back, against the window. I don’t know exactly what the hostesses know or don’t know about me.
I put the question frankly to the hostess serving my breakfast: “Do you know what happened to me last night ?”3… She is “sorry”. It’s not her fault, of course.
My girlfriend who is a Kurd from Turkey told me the staff from Turkish Arilines had been very active in the Gezi Park and Taksim Square movements.
Prior to that, I had asked for a bottle of water, thinking everyone knew what had happened. I specified I hadn’t had any drinking water during the night. The hostess brought be two glasses.
We fly over a 3-D map in green and black, bordering on the Ocean. It’s breakfast time. The hostess doesn’t understand everything but she is kind.
On leaving the plane, I’m introduced to the blonde lady from the French border police. She’s the one who is given my passport.
Before that, I’ve said goodbye to the hostess, wishing her to discover France some and to be greeted better than I was in Turkey. She repeated that she was “sorry”. I regret laying a guilt trip on her. That wasn’t my intention.
I don’t remember if the blonde handed back my passport right away or after the final interrogation.
Thanks to her, I jumped all the lines, like a VIP!
At the station, she has me wait on the bench facing the counter.
On the way, I had already started explaining what had happened. She told me she simply wanted to insure I had committed no offenses, in Turkey or elsewhere.
I assure her I have committed no offenses anywhere and that chances are Turkey rejected me because of my political involvement and my ties of friendship with Kurdish members or sympathizers of the HDP.
At her request, I accept to show her the content of my small backpack. When she then asks me if I will freely show her my list of contacts, I consider she’s pushing the envelope a bit. But I’ve let myself be carried along by trust and, at the time, I don’t see how or why I should refuse.
I was reproached this weakness, later. Indeed, the blonde’s chief may have photocopied the list and put all my contacts on a list. We mustn’t forget the cooperation agreement that ties the Turkish and the French police.
To my great surprise, I get my big back pack quickly. Looking through it, I see it wasn’t even searched!

Zehra is waiting for me at the door, still winded by the six flights of stairs.

And now what should I do?

Go to Greece? Canoe down the Dordogne? Do a speleology initiation? Hand gliding?
Zehra pulls me out of my dream: the police called her parents in Turkey. False alarm. Zehra had misunderstood. In fact, her parents had received a letter from the university concerning her grant…
In the afternoon, I drop in to see my friends at the Kebab. Selim, the father, thinks my misadventure won’t have any consequences for my contacts in Turkey.
Zehra, for her part, contacted her couin in Diyarbakır. Who told her several Europeans like me found themselves on the Turkish government’s black list but were let free afterwards.
I run into my young friends Nino and Geoffrey on the street, who tease me…
How bizarre! During the trip, I had already dreamt that I was back home again, in the middle of the road. This had never happened to me before in real life!
I call Jean-Luc F., my canoe master. He thinks buying an inflatable canoe is a very bad idea because I won’t be able to maneuver it alone. To try it out, he invites me to his vacation home in Embrun, in the Southern Alps.
And here I am in the Paris-Marseille TGV, at 11h24, writing you my letter…
I thought there would be a celebration at UNESCO, as there was last year, to mark the end of the genocide and the liberation of Rwanda but I didn’t receive any emails about it, so I don’t know…

Lionel C.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges

Français : Refoulement : “Mon Orient express par avion” Cliquez pour lire

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